THE Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has lifted its suspension on IOI Group’s palm oil sustainability certification.
RSPO suspended IOI Group’s certification in April, after sustainability consultancy Aidenvironment investigations found that IOI had been illegally clearing sensitive peatland and felling forests, something which is expressly forbidden under RSPO rules. IOI took RSPO to court in Switzerland in May over the suspension of its sustainability certificate, saying that the action was 'disproportionate' and would affect its ability to meet major supply contract obligations. Several major companies, including Mars and Unilever, stopped sourcing palm oil from IOI. However, since then the RSPO Complaints Panel has conducted a series of meetings with Aidenvironment and IOI Group to discuss a way forward, and the case has been dropped.
After recommendations from the Complaints Panel, which found that IOI Group had met its initial sustainability criteria, RSPO agreed to lift the suspension with effect from 8 August. However, RSPO’s board says it will closely monitor the implementation of the action plan on the ground with an independent team of experts, which the RSPO Secretariat will appoint by the 4 September. It welcomed the efforts made already by IOI.
'The findings of the independent ground verification team shall be scrutinised by the RSPO Complaints Panel. The Complaints Panel will advise the board of governors to re-impose the suspension, with immediate effect, if the verification team find significant failures in the implementation of IOI’s commitments to RSPO in correcting deficiencies that led to IOI’s certifications being suspended in the first place,' said RSPO.
IOI Group must submit quarterly progress reports under the Panel’s recommendation, and the action plan and the company’s adherence to it will be independently examined again in a year’s time. RSPO warned that the certification could be suspended again if IOI is found to be in breach of conditions.
Amongst other things, IOI must remove ‘overplanted’ palm oil trees, ensure that adequate fire-prevention measures are in place, introduce land rehabilitation plans and work with stakeholders and subsidiaries to develop strategies to protect sensitive environments.
IOI has now published a revised sustainability policy and implementation action plan including many of these points, another of the conditions of the suspension being lifted.
'The revised policy reaffirms our commitments to no-deforestation, no planting on peat, zero-burning on all new planting and re-planting as well as driving socio-economic advancement of the communities. It also introduces new commitments on peatland landscape management and protection, peatland rehabilitation, enhanced fire prevention measures, and the implementation of a more robust labour rights monitoring system. A key element is that we expect and will ensure our suppliers adhere to the same sustainability commitments as us,' said the group in a statement.
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